BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Finding the Music | En pos de la música by Jennifer Torres, illustrated by Renato Alarcão

Finding the Music by Jennifer Torres on BookDragonWinner of the 2011 New Voices Award from innovative multi-culti press Lee & Low, journalist/new author Jennifer Torres’ Finding the Music hit shelves earlier this month. [In case you need the exact details, the original title was Live at the Cielito Lindo, the publisher is Children’s Book Press – one of Lee & Low’s growing stable of imprints – and yes, indeedy, getting a manuscript edited, bound, printed, distributed, and actually into readers’ hands often takes years.]

The Cielito Lindo – ‘beautiful heaven’ – of the original title is the name of the family restaurant where Reyna spends every weekend hanging out with Mamá. Reyna prefers to read in her favorite booth, and doesn’t appreciate the growing noise as more and more hungry guests gather. “‘These are the sounds of happy lives,'” her mother reminds her. “‘The voices of our neighbors are like music.'” 

One Saturday, Reyna has had enough of “the ruckus” … and in her frustration, she accidentally knocks her late grandfather’s hanging vihuela from its prized position on the wall. Before her mother can see what’s happened, Reyna grabs the precious instrument – with its new ugly crack, oh no! – and runs out the door. Although Reyna never heard her Abuelito play, “every night at bedtime Mamá described the Mexican folk songs he had performed. She said the music was like an old friend, taking your hands and pulling you onto the dance floor.” 

So to old friends Reyna goes for help, hoping the vihuela can be fixed: to Don Antonio’s hardware store, to Miss Ana the school music teacher, to Señor Marcos at the music shop. Eventually, Reyna will get the repair she needs, but even more importantly, she receives priceless gifts that help her see, hear, and know her beloved Abuelito like never before. 

Written in both English and Spanish, Torres presents a warm, inspiring story of family and community; it’s also an informative music lesson, as well. In her ending “Author’s Note,” Torres offers the two-century-plus history of mariachi, “the blending of indigenous and Spanish musical traditions.” As Mexicans moved north, they brought along this “living art form,” spreading its unique sounds beyond borders. The vihuela, she explains, is what gives mariachi its lively rhythm – which is why it was so important to Abuelito’s music. 

Brazilian artist Renato Alarcão also mentions music: he “was inspired to become an illustrator by the amazing illustrated covers on his brother’s record albums,” his back flap bio reveals. As if echoing the music, Alarcão’s art is sweeping and colorful, filled with motion and light. Mamá’s capable hands never rest, the young Sandoval twins clearly never stop (nor does the projectile arc of their food, ahem), Reyna’s hands automatically seem to go to her hair in worry, she’s just stepping onto the sidewalk or walking briskly along, and the smiles fly free as the music plays and the dancing begins. 

By story’s happy end, feet are tapping, hands start clapping, and the heart is joyously thumping .. a bit of ‘beautiful heaven,’ indeed. Ready to join in? You betcha!

Readers: Children

Published: 2015


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